8. Surgery

The first step in actually preparing for the surgery itself was to go to the hospital to donate my blood in case I needed it during surgery. It went smoothly enough, although I was disappointed to find out that my blood would just be discarded if I didn’t use it. I was hoping someone else would be able to use it, but oh well. I also had a physical with my regular doctor, and after getting the go-ahead from her, I thought I was all set. However, I managed to get tangled up with some poison ivy about two weeks before my surgery, which somehow decided to wait until a week before surgery before my arms started breaking out and itching. So back to the doctor for me, where I had more blood pulled (seemingly counterintuitive, since my doctor wanted to run bloodwork again because I looked pretty wan and rough around the edges. Pulling more blood did not help with that, as far as I was concerned), and my doctor put the kibosh on my surgery so I could go on Prednisone to get rid of the poison ivy. I was horribly disappointed by this, since it took quite a lot out of me to get to the point where I felt psychologically ready for the surgery, only to find out I’d have to go through that whole emotional roller-coaster again. I cancelled my surgery, and waited not very patiently for my arms to clear up. I got the go-ahead for surgery about a week later, and although I was preparing myself for another long wait before I could schedule my surgery again, I somehow managed to get in on a cancellation on May 19, 2004.

The morning of surgery, instead of mulling over what would be happening to my face in a matter of hours, I was frantically trying to get everything set at work for my long absence. I stayed for a half day (also because I didn’t have nearly enough PTO saved up for my recovery, and I was taking advantage of every little bit I could get paid), and then literally ran to the metro when I realized I was late. I then missed my train, was still trying not to break down in tears by time the next train came (I thought it wouldn’t be coming for another 15 minutes or so, not 2), and then made it the rest of the way to the hospital without any other problems. Once I got there, I filled in all my entry paperwork, got my hospital bracelet, and then waited in a daze for about half an hour. Still in a daze when my name was called again, I changed into the hospital gown, put my lame non-latex shoes on (I supposedly was allergic to latex, but it was more a combination of many, many bandaids being put on overly-sensitive poison ivy-irritated skin to keep me from scratching), and then waited for an interminable amount of time in the holding room. I narrowly avoided getting a chin implant, because it luckily registered in my head that they read that off on the list of what I would be having done. I said, once again, that I was not having a chin implant (having had the same conversation with my oral surgeon’s office on the way, I was going to tell every last person I could find that I was keeping my weak chin, thank you very much). They hooked me up to the IV, and then after some more nervous talk - during which I repeatedly asked if I would be completely under during the surgery, since I still have wretched, vivid memories of getting my wisdom teeth out when I was supposed to be out - I was wheeled into the operating room. My last memory is adjusting my position on the operating table, thinking how ironic it was that I was trying to help get into the appropriate position for them to finish me off (I was feeling a bit macabre at this point - I had gone through too much psychological jerking around for my tastes).

Next thing I knew, I was up in my hospital room. Apparently, my mom and Ryan had seen me down in Recovery, but I don’t remember this at all. I had to stay down there for about two hours after my four hour+ surgery while they attempted to get my nausea under control. I appreciate their effort, but it didn’t do me much good, because as soon as I came to, I decided I absolutely needed to go to the bathroom. My stomach didn’t agree, and I threw up blood as soon as I tried to get up. I was less disgusted than I thought I would be, and I was also relieved to get that milestone out of the way - throwing up with my jaw wired shut was one of my main fears before surgery, but ended up not being that big of a deal. Not eating solid foods helps out a lot in that situation. I made my way into the bathroom (repeat ad nauseam throughout the course of that neverending night), saw my face in the mirror despite the nurse’s attempts to block me, and laughed at how wretched I looked. I was keeping in mind that I wouldn’t always look so rough, so it was almost humorous to see the huge, pale, floppy lips, hole draining from my chin, and blood covering my nose and mouth.

I made it through that first night, despite the fact that I could hardly breathe since my nose was all blocked. I was able to start working on some water and apple juice in the morning so that they would let me leave, but before I could get that far, I got called back downstairs. During surgery, my jaw had been broken in four different places - one break on each side of my lower jaw to bring it forward (and up, on the left side), one break on the upper left to swing part of my jaw outwards so my teeth would match up with my lower teeth, and then my front upper jaw was complete broken off (roughly from cuspid to cuspid, I think) to swing that inwards to close up my overbite. All of these breaks were held together by wire (one wire on each side of my upper jaw, going around through my gums and sinuses, and one wire on each side of my lower jaw, going around my chin and through my gums), as well as the wires that held my jaw shut. However, the top front segment of my jaw had shifted, so I got some novocain shot into my mouth (even though it was still numb anyway), and the doctors tried to wrench my jaw back into place. Not a pleasant sensation or sound, although it didn’t hurt at all. With everything back in line, I was released from the hospital and went home to recover at my mom’s. See the Recovery Page for a recap of all that fun, complete with pictures.

Then came the issues - the readjustment I received at the hospital didn’t stick, and after some X-rays were taken to confirm that my upper jaw segment had indeed moved, I went back to the hospital exactly two weeks after my first surgery to have a second surgery. Even though I was assured that this complication was very unusual, it wasn’t very comforting to me since I would still have to go through the surgery all over again. So back I went to the hospital, much more calm this time but also more downtrodden. This time I only made it to the hallway outside of the O.R. before I was knocked out. That was a big concern of mine, since I had been told that they would be cutting my jaw open before I could fall asleep (probably because of the breathing tube), but that wasn’t the case. They opened up my gums again on my top jaw, replaced some of the wires with two plates on each side of my jaw, and then sewed me back up and gave me a new configuration of wires holding my mouth together. I don’t remember much of the rest of the time at the hospital, except for the fact that breathing was even more difficult this time around (which I didn’t think was possible at that point), and my nurse was not as attentive as the first nurse (who was wonderful). The low point of the night was pressing my call button for help, trying to garble out “I can’t breathe!”, and then having no one respond. I finally called again (20 minutes later), got some more nose spray, and then decided I was going to eat everything they threw at me so I could get out of there as soon as possible. So after a long night filled with nose spray and nasal saline, I was released from the hospital in the morning to start recovering at home again. At least that time they prescribed amoxicillan instead of penicillin. I had been struggling terribly with the penicillin after my first surgery - even after watering it down significantly, I was still choking on it nearly every time, and with multiple dosages a day, I was reduced to tears more than a few times since choking was so scary to me with my jaw wired shut. So my orange-flavored amoxicillan was a welcome relief, although I think under different circumstances I would’ve found that to be pretty foul-tasting as well :)